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What if the sheriff spots a traffic violation?

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois

What if the sheriff spots a traffic violation?

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
June 22, 2011

What ought to be the protocol if the sheriff of a county spots a traffic violator?

Should he make a traffic stop? Would the seriousness of the violation be a factor in determining whether to make the stop?

In McHenry County the sheriff doesn't drive a vehicle with easily-recognized markings that it is a Sheriff's Department vehicle. These days, drivers are cautious about stopping for an unmarked vehicle.

If the Sheriff observed a traffic violation, what should he do?

If it's a minor violation, he should let it go. He's the top dog in the County's law enforcement scheme, and he is supposed to be running a department of over 400 employees; he doesn't have time to go to court over a $100 ticket. Besides, if he looks at his own driving habits, would he write himself tickets for his own violations?

What if it's a major traffic violation?

Then he should call for a marked unit and have the deputy (or police officer) make the stop and write the ticket. The sheriff could serve as the complaining witness.

And if it's a really major violation, he might pull over the violator. But what if the violator runs? (drives off, I mean) Is the sheriff ready to give chase in his white unmarked Tahoe? Should he? Absolutely not!

When was the last time Sheriff Nygren successfully passed a high-speed pursuit driving training class?

I remember a past time when the Sheriff encountered a "suspicious" vehicle. It happened to be parked in a parking space in the Woodstock Jewel-Osco parking lot, out at the end of a row of empty parking spaces. Way out.

As I recall, he did not radio in that he had such a vehicle under observation or request a back-up. He just pulled in, fully exposing himself (well, not fully "exposing" himself, thank goodness) to the driver and placing himself directly in a line of danger, had he stopped alongside a dangerous criminal, perhaps one fleeing the scene of a violent crime and prepared to use all means to avoid capture.

Fortunately, that wasn't the case. He knew whose car it was. He had just pulled in alongside the car of a harmless (well, maybe not totally "harmless" (there is always my keyboard)) and unarmed blogger in Woodstock.

You know the saying, "When you need the police in seconds, they are only minutes away"?

It's true! Woodstock Police responded to my call within minutes. And I'm glad to this day that I insisted that the officer give me the Report Number for the incident I was reporting. That put it in the official records of the Woodstock Police Department.

More than a year later, that very date became all the more important for what had happened just before the parking lot incident.

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